Is your dog's barking habit driving you crazy? Don't worry, this is a common problem and there are a number of options for teaching your pup that silence is golden. First off, it is important to check with your vet, any nuisance or problem behavior can be a sign of a possible medical issue. If the underlying cause of the problem is medical, training won't do much to cure it. Once your furry friend has been cleared by the vet we can move on to training and management.
Before doing anything, consider this question:
What would you do if you wanted to reinforce your dog for barking, how could you set up a scenario that would cause your dog to bark so that he could be rewarded?
Although this question may seem strange, it is important to remember that behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to happen again in the future. Considering the behavior from this angle may help to illuminate any reinforcement that is occurring so that we can understand why the behavior is continuing to happen. Let's look at some examples:
Dog barks when person comes in door - person talks to dog and pets him to calm him - dog is reinforced for barking with attention.
Dog Barks at squirrel in yard - squirrel leaves - dog was reinforced for barking when it scared the squirrel away.
Dog barks at mailman (or other passers-by) - Mailman leaves - dog is reinforced for barking by mailman's eventual departure.
The first step is, of course, management. How can we manage the situation so that the dog does not get reinforced for barking? Perhaps in the first situation we instruct guests to ignore the pup until he is quiet, and then offer attention. If the dog barks at the mailman or passers-by, we can block the dog's view from the window. There are great adhesive films that can "frost" windows at the dog's height. They look good, still allow natural light to enter, but obstruct the dog's view of the world beyond.
However in some cases, management is not enough, or there is no easy way to manage the situation such as in the scenario involving squirrels. For these situations we can move on to training.
Step 1: Capture Calmness with a Reward. If your dog is being quiet, reward him. Randomly rewarding quiet calmness throughout the day will increase the chances that your pup will behave calmly and quietly in other situations as well.
Step 2: Work on Check-In. Teaching a behavior that your pet can fall back on when in doubt is a great way to replace unwanted behaviors. For the check in behavior, reward your dog anytime he offers eye-contact freely. For step-by-step instructions view this link:
Step 3: Remove Reinforcement for Barking. If the dog barks at squirrels, immediately bring him back inside when the barking starts, when he is quiet, he can go back out. If he barks for attention, when the barking begins, immediately turn and walk away ignoring him. As soon as he is quiet, slather on the praise and petting. We want to clearly contrast rewarded calmness with barking being a "losing game". Keep the interactions positive, increasing the stress level of your dog by scolding may only increase the barking behavior.
Step 4: Build Coping Skills. Once your pup has learned a foundation of good attention and is beginning to learn calm quietness in other situations, you can begin to work on building coping skills in the face of triggers. Have a cup of high-value treats ready, and start with low expectations. Maybe you let your dog see a squirrel through the window. Feed a treat as soon as your pup looks at the squirrel but before he has a chance to bark. We want to "capture" the brief moment in time in which the dog is making the decision of whether or not to bark, but has not barked yet. With practice, and over time the duration of this moment will grow and your dog will be able to tolerate squirrels without feeling the immediate urge to bark. Use this same concept in the face of other triggers as well. If your pup barks before you get a chance to reward, you have introduced too much of the trigger too quickly, move further away, or start from indoors then move outdoors as your dog progresses.
If the barking continues to be a problem, consult with an accredited trainer, behavior consultant, or veterinary behaviorist that specializes in positive reinforcement. There are many reasons that barking may continue. Your pup may need a more personalized training program, or he may have another condition causing habitual barking that is not a result of learning such as Canine Compulsive Disorder.
Want to schedule a consult with Simply Animal Training regarding nuisance barking? Schedule online at the link below or contact us via phone or email: